Will Divorce Affect my Social Security Benefits?
Many people who are facing retirement do not know how Social Security benefits are determined after a change in marital status. If you are divorced, divorcing, considering divorce or are close to retirement age and considering remarriage, you may have questions about how divorce and remarriage may affect the amount of Social Security benefits you are eligible for and the best time to apply for those benefits.
A very general overview of what you should know about how divorce and marriage impact Social Security benefits is outlined below. Be aware that the rules change; there may be exceptions to these general rules and the specific facts of your situation may differ. Seek the advice of a professional to ensure you make the best decisions about your social security benefits following divorce or prior to remarriage.
The Length of the Marriage Matters
If you were married to your spouse or a former spouse for more than ten (10) years you may be able to claim Social Security benefits based on your former spouse’s work record, even if he or she has remarried. To receive benefits under a former spouse’s work record, you must meet specific criteria. These criteria are listed on the Social Security Administration website here: “Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced”
Presently, if you are divorced and your former spouse receives or is eligible to receive social security benefits based on your work record it has absolutely no impact on the amount of your retirement benefits, those of another former spouse claiming benefits on your work record, or benefits a current spouse may be entitled to. Read more here at the SSA website: “Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse”
Death of Former Spouse
If you were married to a former spouse for more than ten (10) years and your former spouse dies, you may be eligible to receive benefits just the same as a widow or widower. There are rules and exceptions. Please see the Social Security Administration website: “Survivors Planner: If You're The Worker's Surviving Divorced Spouse”
If you remarry, you may not be able to collect benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, but if you are later divorced, your marriage annulled, or your newer spouse dies, you may be able to claim benefits under a qualifying former spouse’s work history. Please see the Social Security Administration website links above for details.
In most instances, if you are eligible for retirement based on your own work record and are also eligible to collect benefits through an ex-spouse’s work record, the Social Security administration will pay your own retirement benefit first. If the amount of retirement benefits you are eligible for is lower than the one half (1/2) of the amount of benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record, you will receive additional benefits to make up the difference. This can vary based on your full retirement age, so you should seek out the advice of a professional before applying for benefits.
Other considerations that you will need to consider include delayed retirement credits, retirement benefits earning limits, and pensions.
Note that the Social Security Administration can update these rules at any time. We highly recommend that you review the SSA website regarding Social Security benefits after a divorce (links above).
When Can You File for an Ex-Spouse’s Social Security Benefits?
You do not need to wait for your ex-spouse to file for social security benefits to become eligible yourself. If you have been divorced at least two years and are both at least 62 years of age, you are allowed to make an independent filing decision that best suits your situation. It is important to consider when is the best time to apply for an ex-spouse’s benefits based on your financial circumstances.
Recent changes in social security rules are important to understand before filing for social security benefits under a former spouse’s work record if the applicant is also eligible to receive benefits under his or her own work record. In the past, an individual who was eligible for retirement benefits under a former spouse’s work record could file to receive those benefits and delay applying for retirement benefits under his or her own work record. In 2016, the law changed negatively impacting this strategy but there are some exceptions. Please see the SSA website link above for details.
Because divorce and remarriage can add a layer of complexity to a variety of decisions facing those approaching retirement age, like Social Security benefits, it is important to consult with an experienced Washington divorce attorney who can protect your interests and guide you toward better outcomes for your future. We invite you to contact a representative at McKinley Irvin to schedule an appointment to discuss your case.
For the latest information about social security benefits please see the Social Security Administration website at:
You may locate the nearest social security office or schedule an appointment to talk with a social security representative at:
Or by calling 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.